Poppinga talks fans, sportsmanship and USU

At one time, Kelly Poppinga suited up in a Utah State jersey. He remembers the days when he played linebacker for the Aggies with all their fans cheering him on. Having switched his allegiance to BYU, first as a player and now as a coach, those days are long gone. The cheers have now become jeers, but expects Friday's contest to be a positive one for both fan bases.

When Kelly Poppinga was an Aggie, he wanted to be at the program where his older brother Brady played, so he made the decision to leave Utah State for BYU. The departure left a bitter taste in the mouths of many of his Aggie teammates.

"When I left there, guys were a little bitter at me, but I've mended all those things," Poppinga said. "Partially that was my fault because I didn't tell anyone I was transferring. I just transferred, so I hurt some of my buddies up there and that's been a while."

It's been many years since then, and Coach Poppinga doesn't have many real current connections to the Aggie program.

"Their d-line coach, Frank Maile, I played with when I was there," said Poppinga. "He's a great guy, man. He's a stud and is a really good guy and is doing a great job with their d-line. So really other than that – the trainer's still there [from] when I was there – that's about it."

Poppinga said he feels he's patched things up with those former players and coaches that that he associated with at USU.

"Things are good now, at least I think they are" Coach Poppinga said with a smile. "Maybe they're not in their minds, but no, I had a lot of good buddies when I played up there and the coaches were good guys when I played up there. I met my wife up there, so I can't talk too bad about Utah State because that's where I met my wife."

Poppinga has also noticed something different in the demeanor of the Aggie fan base.

"Playing up there and coaching up there, I've been blown away by their fans," Poppinga said. "When I was playing up there, we never had fans like that. I mean, we were terrible when I was up there, but now they're way better and their fans are into it. Their fans are like how they are with basketball. That's how they're treating their football team, which is awesome and I'm glad to see that."

As a new BYU assistant, Coach Poppinga recalls the experience he had while coaching on the road against his former school.

"You know, their fans get on you and get after you fast from the very start," Coach Poppinga said. "I remember [last year] our guys were warming up by the student section, and they were getting after the outside backers from the student section. I was thinking, ‘Man, these guys are brutal.' I mean, there was no holds barred."

Just how bad were the jeers from the Utah State fans last year?

"It was worse than Wyoming and Utah, and I mean it was bad," Coach Poppinga said. "I mean, it was clever. There was some clever stuff going on there, but at the same time I was like, ‘Wow, that shouldn't be coming out of your mouth there buddy.' But it was good, I mean, they were into it and they had a great atmosphere up there in their football stadium and in their basketball stadium."

The reception was a stark contrast to what Poppinga experienced while coaching his players on the road against teams in the South.

"Super hospitable," Poppinga said. "They were just excited we were there, and they were super kind and friendly. It was awesome. You know, every game that I've played in the South it just seemed like that everywhere you go. It seems as the more north or west you get, it's more of an enemy is coming in and the fans aren't as hospitable. You know, [fans out west are] saying things that you won't hear down there and it's different."

It appears when teams within the state of Utah play each other, the level of intensity increases in such a way that sportsmanship is thrown right out the window.

"I think sportsmanship is a huge thing, especially in college sports," Coach Poppinga said. "Sometimes the fans get a little carried away, especially in rivalry games like this week. Hopefully our fans treat [Utah State fans] good, but at the same time I hope they're going wild and crazy when our defense is on the field or when we score and do something good. Its college sports and fans are going to be fans and do what the heck ever they want."

Poppinga said he feels that BYU fans generally treat the players and fans of opposing teams with respect and kindness, though there are exceptions.

"I think for the most part our fans are [civil]," he said with a laugh in his voice. "I think when we play certain teams they're not, but I think for the most part they are. I think they're respectful for the most part, maybe two or three games of the year they get a little carried away."

As Utah State heads south to meet BYU at LaVell Edwards Stadium, the same excitement displayed during their basketball home games is to be expected by those that make the journey. Ultimately, Coach Poppinga expects the atmosphere to be a positive one for both fan bases.

"Their fans get into it and so I'm sure that's going to be carried down here a little bit. They travel pretty well and they'll be loud and they'll be crazy, and it's a good thing we'll have more Cougar fans than Utah State fans. It will be a fun atmosphere I think."

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